Sometimes I sit back and wonder if the rapper Rakim was an English major in a past life…you know, without the pretentiousness, the laziness, or the bullshit (oh, how we bullshit!).
The Long Island duo of Eric Barrier and Rakim Allah (the artist formerly known as William Griffin) didn’t set out to change the hip-hop world with their music, but that’s exactly just what they did on their arrival in the late 1980s. With their ‘87 debut Paid in Full the duo became the group to be reckoned with, cementing themselves as one of the most popular hip-hop groups of the era and earning a nice spot in the hip-hop pantheon (it’s right near the pool). Eric and Rakim both represented the very best of their trades. Eric’s deejaying and production work was unparalleled, known for it’s minimalistic, yet sample-heavy style which ignited hip-hop’s fascination with funk music and James Brown.
And Rakim? Well…
Ra didn’t just stand head and shoulders over every other rapper in the game at that point, he was practically on Mount Everest. Rakim is considered to be the genesis of the modern rapper, the dude who elevated the art of rhyming from simple block party rhymes into some otherworldly stuff. His rhymes were airtight, performed with masterful dexterity, effortless cool, and an appreciation for how words worked together. He used internal rhymes and multisyllabic lines, played with tempos, utilized evocative imagery, flexed a vast vocabulary, and had a penchant for impressive metaphors. Basically, he made rap poetry. Every line he said was methodical, and the music rewards multiple listens, often because you’ll get caught up on one incredible line and miss several gems right after it. Today, pretty much any dude who raps somewhat well (and even if they don’t) owes something to Rakim. You can practically hear him in rappers such as Nas and Eminem, and his style has become the standard (well, till the Internet age and meme rap came along). They don’t call him the God MC for nothing.
“I Know You Got Soul” was my introduction to the group, and still one of my favorite performances by the God MC. Rocking a sample of Bobby Byrd’s ’71 classic of the same name, along with a punchy drum pattern care of Funkadelic, Eric’s production is one smooth ride, allowing Rakim to flow like water. I always loved that ink line.
Follow the leaders.
Originally posted on my old ass Tumblr, Emaciated Wildebeest, on March 15, 2011.